Tech Talk: A gaggle of possibilities with Google

If Microsoft is the 400-pound gorilla in computing, Google is the 400-pound octopus. Its tentacles are everywhere, especially in data storage and retrieval. Amazingly, most of its services are free, supported primarily and very successfully by advertising.
Google’s earnings in the fourth quarter of last year rose 90 percent from the same period a year ago and its stock price from August to November jumped 30 percent. Google is likely to be around for a while.
Google is best-known for its search engine: www.google.com. By the end of last year, it was processing 47 percent of all Internet searches, up 3 percentage points from the end of the third quarter, according to the Wall Street Journal. The latest dictionaries recognize the verb “to google” as meaning to search electronically for information.
Rural builders can take advantage of these trends, most importantly by tailoring their websites so they can be found by prospective customers who use Google to locate design and construction services. The game is to make sure that Google will display a link to your site on its first page of its search results.
The trick is to think like a prospective customer, suggests Anthony Trendl, a web marketing consultant in Glen Ellyn, Ill. What words would someone who ought to find you be likely to type into the Google search box? Those are the words that you should work into your site.
The key words go in two places:
1. Into the meta tags, which Google’s indexing search will see as it surveys the World Wide Web.
2. Into your own site description.
The public will see the second but not the first. Google will see both. If you have a site already, you can see how good a job your consultant did in creating it. Open your site and on the command line at the top of your browser, select Page and View Source. You’ll see a lot of code, but hidden about halfway through the third or fourth line should be the word CONTENT. The words that follow are the meta tags. Do they fully reflect your scope of services?
If you are building your own site with a program such as Dreamweaver, the meta tags can be inserted in a box that comes up when you select Insert, then Head Tags, and then Keywords. Front Page, another popular website-building program, provides a similar opportunity.
Be sure to repeat the key words in the description of your business. This will confirm to Google’s indexing engine that you mean business. Google is wise to the trick by some consultants who use pornographic words as meta tags to boost the hit count.
Here is a starter set of possible words that might describe a typical reader of Rural Builder magazine. Pick those that apply to you: building (and variations such as builder, constructor, construction), frame, post frame, pole barn, accessory, agricultural, farm, airplane hangar, economical, efficient, equestrian, garage, horse, industrial, inexpensive, livestock, low rise, machinery storage, metal cladding, siding, quick, religious, church, remodel, residential, house, home, retail, remodel, retrofit, riding arena, rural, salt storage, school annex, shed, suburban, commercial, institutional, community, convenience store, office, outbuilding, strip mall, warehouse.
Trendl also recommends using the most important key words in the title of your home page. If your corporate name is Smith and Sons and most of your business comes from agricultural buildings, consider naming your site “Smith & Sons: Agricultural & Post Frame Builders.” The site name will appear on the blue bar at the top of your home page.
Then put your website address out for people to see, such as on your business cards, on your phone message and in your ads, including the Yellow Pages. Consider also cross-linking with related organizations, especially the National Frame Builders Association, your local Chamber of Commerce, your primary suppliers, and subcontractors.
If you’re not a member of NFBA, it might pay for you to join, just for the cross-listings. For example, Morton Buildings got 25,025 click-throughs (visitors directed to Morton’s website) from the NFBA website, plus 4,637 requests for phone and address information plus 745 emails between August 10, 2004, and January 4, 2007.
OK, so you’re not as big as Morton, which has more than 120 branch locations, each with its own NFBA listing. How about Pioneer Pole Buildings in Schuylkill, Pa.? In the same period, NFBA generated 1,021 referrals from Pioneer’s single listing, plus 306 phone and address requests and 25 emails. Or Kistler Pole Building Co. in Fogelsville, Pa., which pulled 977 hits plus 219 phone numbers plus 33 emails. Or Garages-n-More, Alburtis, Pa., with 966 clicks redirecting traffic to its website plus 158 clicks on its phone number and address, and 16 clicks generating email messages to the company through the end of this January.
No information is available about how many deals actually closed as a result of these contacts, but targeted traffic never hurts.
Just for fun, google yourself. Type your name in the Google search and see what comes up. At the least, you’ll probably see your home telephone number, if it is listed.
But Google is much more, almost all of it hidden behind its famously clean home search page. From the Google home page, click on more and then even more. Suddenly, a whole new world opens up.
For example, in November, I uploaded to www.youtube.com a promotional video I did for a rural builder in Georgia a couple of years ago (page 15). Google just bought YouTube for $1.65 billion and integrated it with Google Video. To watch the video, type Bowen & Watson in the video search box.
After its search engine, Google probably is best-known for Google Earth, a satellite photograph of most of the world. Type in the address of your home and you might see yourself watering your lawn (or whatever you were doing when the satellite snapped your picture). The precision is startling, although probably not precise enough or current enough to use for planning a new subdivision.
More useful might be Google Calendar feature. Of course, you maintain your personal calendar on Outlook or a similar program, but you might not want to give access to people outside your office. You can set up Google Calendar to coordinate schedules on specific jobs and protect it with a password so people with a need to know — and only those people — can access it.
Google News permits you to construct a page that will display only news with characteristics and keywords that you specify.
Have you ever had problems finding a specific fact in the haystack of old data files on your computer? Google will index the contents of your hard drive and enable you to search your own computer with the same speed and convenience that Google searches the Web.
Need a map? Google is there. Email? Gmail (for Google mail) is free. Instant messaging? Yes, again. Document sharing or collaboration? Of course.
Google, it seems, is everywhere. Just exploring the titles and topics in the “even more” screen could take weeks — and more space than is available here.
One of the friendliest aspects of Google is that it differentiates clearly between news and advertising, and it offers a handy pop-up blocker. Google plays fair with its display of news, although you can buy your way closer to the top of the ads it displays on the right-hand side of the computer screen. For information, go to http://adwords.google.com.
If you need to access, create or share information, think first of Google.

Oliver Witte teaches journalism at Southern Illinois University. He was the founding editor of AIA’s Architecture Technology magazine and for several years managed the computer-aided architecture evaluation program for Architecture magazine. Contact him at owitte@siu.edu.

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